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EARLY START

Trump's Business Panels Collapse; Emotional Vigil on UVA Campus; World Leaders Reject Trump's Charlottesville Remarks; NFL Player Explains Reason for Anthem Protest. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[05:00:07] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump defiant in the face of growing criticism for defending white supremacists. New friction in the party as military, world leaders, and also the business community jumping ship.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And a vigil on the University of Virginia campus, site of an ugly march last week transformed last night into an emotional moment of hope. We have all the elements of the story covered around the world.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Thursday, August 17th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East, noon in Jerusalem, 10:00 a.m. in London.

We begin, though, with the widening fallout from President Trump's defense of white supremacist protesters. Some of the president's advisers now concede all the pushback is hurting chances to advance an agenda once the president returns to Washington next week. Now, more officials in his own party are pushing back.

ROMANS: Senator Lindsey Graham saying the president's words are dividing, not healing Americans. Many Americans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the party of Lincoln was a welcome mat, has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world. Ohio Governor John Kasich said this --

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GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Pathetic, isn't it? Just pathetic listening to this and hearing these marchers. The president has to totally condemn this. And this is not about winning an argument. This is about the fact that now these folks apparently are going to go other places and they think that they had some sort of a victory. There is no moral equivalency between the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and anybody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: And in a rare move by military leaders, all five U.S. Joint Chiefs issuing condemnations of white supremacists groups. Through all this, Mr. Trump remains defiant, even as he stays out of public view.

ROMANS: You know, we're told that the president is moving forward without regret. And two White House sources they say don't believe the president's comments will result in any long-term damage. In fact, one of them telling Jeff Zeleny that this is not a disqualifying moment for this president.

America's CEOs --

BRIGGS: Low bar.

ROMANS: Yes, exactly.

America's CEOs disagree actually and they are abandoning the CEO president. At least eight executives quit Trump's manufacturing council. A response to his remarks on Charlottesville. And just a second -- just as a second economic strategy council was about to dissolve, the president tweeted that he -- actually, he disbanded both of them. There was going to be nothing to disband. They were -- everyone was running for the exits.

The biggest names in business sat on that strategy council, including the heads of Blackstone, JPMorgan, Pepsi, G.M., Wal-Mart. They employ hundreds of thousands of Americans and have millions of customers. The collapse of that group is an unprecedented rebuke to the business- friendly president. There is no mistake, that was a very public rejection of President Donald J. Trump.

Despite disagreeing with Trump on climate change and immigration, most CEOs had been willing to work with him until his insistence that both sides were to blame in Charlottesville, spurring customers and activists to really pressure business leaders to cut ties, and many, Dave, I statements calling out the sitting president, again, incredibly rare. JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon criticized the president for equivocating when denouncing racism.

And the break with business does not bode well for Trump's economic agenda. He is relying on the business community to push lawmakers on things like tax reform. Many CEOs may think twice before working with Trump in the future.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's bring in Tal Kopan in all of This, CNN digital politics reporter.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Live in Washington this morning.

TAL KOPAN, CNN DIGITAL POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning, Tal.

KOPAN: Good morning.

BRIGGS: All right. So, Republican leaders on the record, business leaders on the record.

ROMANS: Military on the record --

BRIGGS: The military, we could go on. But not many Republicans calling out this president by name. Lindsey Graham, obviously, yes, John McCain, Marco Rubio perhaps the most pointed remarks.

When they return to Washington, will they be forced on the record about this president, about his comments? And if so, how does it impact everything they're trying to work towards?

KOPAN: Well, I think many of them are probably happy that this happened during August when they're all over the country and not facing the press corps every day, because certainly, they will be asked about this.

You know, the impact on his agenda is a complicated question because where his agenda aligns with what Republicans in Congress want to do, it's not like they're going to abandon tax reform. They want tax reform. What happens is President Trump loses a lot of his ability to guide that discussion. I think the -- what we're seeing with the CEOs is a pretty good example that those individuals, I don't want to diminish, you know, any personal moral stands that they took, but they also represent the interests of their companies.

And if they perceived being associated with the president as being too toxic to their company to continue, even though it gives them incredible access to policymaking in Washington, that's an indication of why they fled for the exits.

[05:05:07] And it's an indication of what Republicans in Congress might think if they believe the president has become too toxic for their agenda.

ROMANS: Those business leaders, look, their brands were really getting hit. When you look at social media and how people were using social media to put Campbell's Soup with the little -- the little letters that say white supremacist, that's hard. That's hard to overcome.

And it's really an easy issue for some of these CEOs to walk away, especially since some privately have said they weren't doing anything anyway. Some of them felt like they were a photo op for the president in first place.

Gary Cohn, who is his chief economic adviser, we're told that he was enraged for having to stand at the president's side. Some say there's leaking about how Gary Cohn really feels about things, but he is still there.

What does it mean for the president's agenda? What does it mean for Gary Cohn and the things that Gary Cohn wants to get done that the president has been so publicly rebuked? KOPAN: I don't want to try to get into anyone's head. I can

certainly imagine what it was like for Gary Cohn up there that day. But, you know, again, where agendas align, agendas align. And people recognize when they have to work with someone, they may not actually like very much. But again, it's about the ability, about political capital here, right?

In Washington, everything runs on political capital, and typically the beginning of presidency is when that president has the most of it. They come into office typically at their most popular point. There's a lot of goodwill toward them. They often score some legislative wins in their first 100 days.

But certainly, by August recess where we find ourselves, this president came in almost limping well when it comes to political capital. And this type of episode is exactly the thing that undermines his ability to sort of twist arms and sweeten the pot with folks in Washington to get things passed. He is not going to be able to be in the driver's seat in any of these issues if he continues to degrade his standing with the American public. That's how it plays out.

BRIGGS: One of the people we've learned that is warring with Gary Cohn is Steve Bannon. And we've heard so much about Steve Bannon in recent days. And now this interview with the "American Prospect" and, boy, did we learn a lot in an interview that Bannon seemed confused was actually on the record, even though he ran Breitbart, is well aware of what is on and what is off.

But what we learned -- well, he called white supremacists a collection of clowns and losers. But I think most pointedly here, no military solution to North Korea. So, in effect undermining what the president said about fire and fury. He also openly talked about his internal fights with colleagues including Gary Cohn, talked about changing personnel in the State Department. He has undermined the president on a number of aspects and departments.

Is he daring President Trump to fire him? And if he stays, what does that tell us?

KOPAN: Well, there's a lot going on in that question.

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOPAN: You know, if he didn't actually know that this was an interview which our reporting indicates, it's hard to say this was an intentional gesture toward the president. But certainly, it doesn't look good at a time when his position is perilous. We don't have any indication that he is on his way out the door. And certainly we know that the president is very aware of Steve Bannon's connection to what he perceives to be his base and what the implications would be of firing him.

And keep in mind, that would also put Steve Bannon back in the media, back on the outside to say whatever he wants about this presidency and take everything he knows from the inside with these reports of leaks out there into the world. So, there's a lot of factors for the president to weigh here. You know, certainly, the reporting indicates he's not pleased with Steve Bannon, how he's been conducting himself. But firing him would also be a big move at an embattled time, it's TBD as to whether that's sort of a leap he wants to take.

ROMANS: All right. Fascinating. We're going to talk to you in just a few minutes. Come back, get a cup of coffee, come back, a lot it talk about. Thanks, Tal.

Frustrations of President Trump not limited to U.S. shores. World leaders speaking out. Will the president's comments make diplomacy harder on the world stage?

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[05:13:30] THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I absolutely abhor the racism, the hatred and the violence that we've seen portrayed by these groups. I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them. And I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.

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ROMANS: British Prime Minister Theresa May joining a chorus of world leaders expressing anger over President Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacists. Officials from Europe to the Middle East weighing in, raising new questions about the president's ability to perform his duties on the world stage.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now with more on the fallout in Europe.

And, you know, just fascinating from your perspective, Fred, you grew up in Germany which has its own post-war history, trying to deal with very unsavory far-right elements and how to heal from that.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right, Christine. And I think one of the things the Germans have done is they've decided to take it all head-on. Let's not try to whitewash any of their history.

And certainly, when you look at Germany's past and then a lot of Germans see what happened there in Charlottesville, many of them really, really found that very, very unsettling. I mean, especially things like those torch marches, but then also people brandishing -- openly brandishing swastika flags or things that are totally illegal in Germany, where many people in the German press and media in the German public are saying, look, do these people really understand the gravity of what they're displaying there at those marches.

And then also, of course, on the flip side of that, does the U.S. president really understand the gravity of what is being displayed there? [05:15:04] And it was interesting because the German foreign minister,

he came out with a very bold statement where he said, we see, quote, we see what can happen when you give free rein to right-wing extremists. Above all, this should be seen as a lesson for us in Europe and especially in Germany, he said.

Then, of course, you have Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who has someone with a rocky relationship with President Trump, certainly trying to mend that relationship over the course of the past months. But there are some big differences.

She said: It is racist far-right violence and clear, forceful action that must be taken against it regardless of where in the world it happens. Of course, the Germans are saying with that, look, we're going to criticize this no matter where it happens. But the same time saying, there cannot be any equivalence between the far right and those who protest against them, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Fred Pleitgen for us this morning, thank so much.

BRIGGS: President Trump's comments even helping disaster and Iran find common ground if that's possible, leaders of both nations scolding the president and condemning racism. But in one country, conspicuously silent.

Let's bring CNN's Oren Liebermann live for us in Jerusalem this morning.

Good morning, Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. And you're absolutely right. It seems to be that rare bit of common ground between Israeli leaders and Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, and we'll get to that in a second.

First, Israeli politician was across the political spectrum here have effectively come out in -- nearly unanimously and condemned either President Trump himself or his comments where he seemed to draw some sort of moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and white supremacists and those who protests, those who oppose neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Comments have come from multiple political leaders here, saying there needs to be an absolute condemnation from the president, from the White House, from the American leaders, against white supremacists, against neo-Nazis. Notably someone who has been fairly quiet here has been Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who waited three days before putting out directly any of his own comments on the white supremacist rally. And then he did so only on social media and only after President Trump condemned racism and white supremacists himself.

A few hours after the tweet, though, Trump seemed to reverse course there and tried to draw the symmetry between those who espouse hate and those who protest those who espouse hate. Since then, Netanyahu himself has been silent, no further comment there.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, saying the U.S. needs to deal with its own discrimination before it tries to meddle in the affairs of others, if it wants to be seen as a strong country. Khamenei, it should be said, is an on-the-record holocaust denier.

Dave, one county that has been silent and this perhaps is surprising given the countries that have weighed in, Russia, we've heard no comment from Russian President Vladimir Putin and no comment from the Kremlin or the foreign ministry here. That perhaps a bit surprising, and we'll certainly let you know if that changes.

BRIGGS: Yes, certainly a surprising silence.

Oren Liebermann, live for us. Thank you, sir.

ROMANS: All right. This might just be the most memorable ceremonial first pitch in the history of baseball, unless you are the photographer on the receiving end. Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.

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[05:22:33] BRIGGS: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett taking a page out of Colin Kaepernick's playbook, deciding not to stand for the national anthem this season. And he explained his decision to Jake Tapper.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know, even though Colin Kaepernick is not on an NFL team, some of his peers are following in his footsteps and not standing for the national anthem to protest social injustice. Michael Bennett said he thought about what to do all summer and after the events in Charlottesville decided it was take to action.

When speaking with CNN, Bennett credits Kaepernick for starting the movement and he wishes more players would stand up for what they believe in.

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MICHAEL BENNETT, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: I think Colin Kaepernick was one of the best fighters in sports history for one of the equality of my generation. And I think we've got to continuously fight the good fight. And that's to fight for everybody to have equality, everybody to have freedom. I think that fight is something that we all should be fighting.

I wish -- I wish more players would stand up and say what they really believe because this is the truth that we all believe. But I think everybody's fearful of what would happen. Nobody wants to be Kaepernick. I think that's -- that's what we'll call it now. Nobody but -- if silence is what we have to do, I can't do it anymore.

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SCHOLES: The general manager of Kaepernick's former team, the 49ers, has a different view of players standing for the national anthem than Bennett. John Lynch says when a player decides to sit, it's divisive.

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JOHN LYNCH, 49ERS GENERAL MANAGER: I think this game brings people together. So I think personally when I see that, I think it -- that's divisive. And I understand guys see things that they're not happy, and they have that right. And I think we'll always respect people's rights.

That doesn't mean I believe that. You know, I believe that this game should be celebrated for what it is. I think a tremendous unifier for our country and for what -- the way things should be.

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SCHOLES: All right. Finally, Red Sox hosting the Cardinals. This may be the best worst first pitch ever. Jordan Leandre, goes a tad bit outside, hitting the photographer below the belt. Get this -- Jordan later tweeted, to make matters worse, I'm a pitcher. Props to Tony, the photographer, for hanging in to get the awesome photo. He can always remember the moment and the pain that followed.

[05:25:00] BRIGGS: And we did caption this photo. Two balls with one strike.

What's your caption, Andy?

SCHOLES: Ouch. That's my caption.

BRIGGS: OK, that works, that works.

ROMANS: All right. Andy Scholes, thanks so much for that.

BRIGGS: All right.

ROMANS: President Trump moving forward without regret. He does not have regrets after condoning white supremacists. But will he pay for it with a stalled agenda back in Washington?

BRIGGS: And this vigil on the Virginia campus that turned so ugly nearly a week ago. . The sights and sounds, next.

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ROMANS: New friction this morning between President Trump and his party, his military, world leaders, and the business community, after the president's defense of white supremacists.